One of the most important things we do in our work lives is labeling, and it’s one of those things we usually do casually, without the care it deserves.
Attaching words to our actions, our products, and especially ourselves adds or diminishes value. Do you “operate a machine shop” or do you “make extremely precise components which are part of a knee replacement?” Do you “work for your old man” or do you “learn from a master” or “work with your father to build something that will endure?”
I believe we search for meaning in life with language as a tool, but too often we are lazy with our vocabularies. Every day has a story to be extracted and dramatized hopefully to a willing listener, but if not, translated into our own inner voice. Sometimes the narrative is funny, or ironic, even tragic, but with the proper context it is interesting.
I believe we fall into the greyness of “drift” when we fail to label what is happening in our lives with positive or a least provocative words or pictures. Setting goals and writing them down is another way to label. Ten weeks ago I decided to change my eating habits with the unannounced goal of reaching my high school weight at my 50th high school reunion next June. I am not “on a diet” but I have adopted a “new eating regime for the rest of my life.”
To me this is a crucial labeling difference that has great meaning for me. Every “diet” I’ve ever embarked on has ultimately failed, but a “life change” is a total commitment. The labeling story that resonates most clearly for me and my family came from the great soprano Beverly Sills. She was on a long concert tour traveling from city to city. She was doing eight performances in seven days when she reached San Francisco. Entertainment columnist Herb Caen interviewed her and asked her how it feels to “have to do so many concerts.” She answered, “I get to do them, I don’t have to do them.”
The words “get to” exchanged for “have to” can change your life. They’ve changed mine.
Question: Do you “work for your old man,” or do you work with a master who happens to be your father?
Listen to Steve Goodman’s song “My Old Man.”